This is an almost first draft of a story with typos and errors and who knows what going on. *wink*
If you want to catch up with the rest of this story you can click HERE.
If you want to wait until it is all finished and purchase a copy of the book on April 26, you can do that as well.
Cutting the mushroom as thin as he could, Stan narrowed one eye and noticed, yet again, how hard it had become to focus on smaller objects. He should have brought his bifocals from his upstairs office, but he’d been so hungry he’d left them in favor of starting lunch.
He tossed the mushrooms into the pan of sizzling hamburger and sauce and when he looked up, he saw his daughter trying to move back up the stairs slowly. He was sure she was hoping he hadn’t seen her.
He leaned on the counter, folding his hands over the edge. “Olivia Grace, I’ve already seen you. You can keep coming.”
She sighed heavily, a lot of the teenager Olivia still in her, and walked slowly down the stairs, clearly attempting to delay the inevitable.
“Have you had lunch today?”
She shook her head as she slunked into a chair at the kitchen table.
“Well, I’m making my famous mushroom stroganoff if you’d like some.”
Olivia shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah, I guess. Where’s Mom?”
Stan shrugged a shoulder as well. “The library. Where she usually is this time of day.” He turned back to the stove and stirred the mixture. “Don’t try to deflect me. You know we need to talk about why you’re home.”
He glanced over his shoulder. “Care to enlighten me about your visit?”
Olivia stretched her arms over her head and leaned back slightly. “I just missed you and Mom.”
Stan laughed and shook his head. “Good try, Liv. Spill it. What’s the real reason?”
“I just needed a break from California and college.”
“A break?” He sat the spoon on the spoon holder next to the stove and turned, folding his arms across his chest. “Did your professors approve of this little break of yours? I assume you’re keeping track of your classes online somehow?”
She picked at the tassels on the knitted placemat in front of her. “Not exactly.”
“Not exactly? Liv, if you are going to drop out of college, I swear I —”
“It’s not if I drop out, Dad. I already did. It’s done.”
“Done? Done?” Warmth spread up from Stan’s chest to his face and he was sure he was beat red and possibly about to have a stroke from high blood pressure. “You are not done until I say you’re done, or you have a degree in your hand, young lady.
Olivia leaned forward, a pleading tone to her voice. “Dad, don’t be upset. I was wasting your money out there. I don’t even want to be a social worker anymore, I —”
Stan ignored her efforts to beg for his forgiveness. “I paid all that money for three years and now you are just, what? Walking away from your education? Wasting my money is what you are doing now. If you drop out you’ve already wasted it. All that money down the tubes because now you aren’t even going to use your degree.
Olivia stood and walked to the refrigerator, pulling out a carton of orange juice. She picked up a container of avocado and made a face, then put it back on the shelf. “Again, it’s not if I drop out. Also, it wasn’t totally a waste. I took a lot of good classes with a lot of great information that I can use in the future.”
Stan leaned back against the counter, his arms still folded across his chest, resisting the urge to slam his hand on the counter. “In the future? What future? If you don’t have a degree then you don’t have —”
“Everyone who is successful in life doesn’t have a degree, okay?”
Stan couldn’t believe his ears. “Well, that’s great. So, you think you’re just going to waltz through life without a degree and do what?”
“I don’t know yet, Dad. I just need a break, okay? And Mark Zuckerburg never got a degree. Steve Jobs didn’t either.”
Stan raised an eyebrow. “I know who Steve Jobs is but who is this Zuckerburt guy? Someone you went to high school with? What did he ever do that was so great?”
Olivia paused with the glass halfway to her mouth. “Really, Dad? Mark Zuckerburg is —” She waved her hand and sat back down at the table. “Never mind. All I’m saying is that I don’t have to have a degree to have a successful or happy life.”
She picked up a book on the table and raised an eyebrow. “Whose book is this? How to Find Happiness in Your Older Years?”
Stan turned back to the food on the stove. “I don’t know. Don’t change the subject. This is a very serious decision.”
“Do you think Mom has been acting weird?”
Stan’s jaw tightened. “No, I don’t. Stop trying to change the subject.”
Olivia flipped through the pages of the book. “She seems sad, right? Have you noticed that?”
“There are no breaks in life kid. There’s hard work and —”
“Right, I know.” Olivia sipped the juice, closing the book. “But what about Mom? Have you even noticed how down she seems lately?”
Stan slapped the spoon on the counter next to the stove. “There is nothing wrong with your mom.”
Olivia leaned an elbow on the table and propped her chin on her hand. “Are things okay between you two?”
Stan threw his arms out to his side, facing his daughter. “Everything is fine with me and your mom. Will you, please, stop changing the subject?”
Olivia pursed her lips and tapped the tip of her index finger against her chin. “But is it, really? Okay between you two? I mean, do you have any idea what’s she been up to lately?”
Stan huffed a breath out impatiently. “What does that mean?” Was his daughter trying to show she’d learned at least something in those psychology classes she’d taken as part of her social work degree. If so, he didn’t like it. Not one little bit. “She’s been working, planning the library fundraiser, hanging out with Liz. Normal stuff.”
Olivia ran the tip of her finger along the edge of the class. “I don’t know, Dad, maybe Mom is acting weird because you’re never home.”
Stan stuffed his hands into his pockets, certain if he didn’t place them there, he’d pound a fist into the kitchen wall. “She is not acting weird, and I am home sometimes.”
“But not a lot.”
“Because I’m working, paying for you to go to college or I was and apparently I was working for nothing since you’ve thrown away your chance to finish your degree.”
Olivia seemed non-plussed by Stan’s growing anger. She chewed on her lower lip, looking absent-mindedly through the kitchen doorway to the living room. “Every time I call home she’s alone. She says you’re at work or a meeting or conference somewhere.” She turned to look at her dad again. “Do you guys even hang out anymore? When is the last time you two went out? Alone. Just the two of you?”
Stan tossed his arms out to his side. “I don’t know, Olivia. Why are you asking all these questions? Things are fine with your mother. They’re fine with me and your mother.” He pointed a finger at her. “But things are not fine between you and me, so you’d better figure out what you are going to do about all this. You are not dropping out of college, do you understand me?”
Olivia sighed and stretched her leg out across the chair next to her. “It’s too late, Dad. I already told you that. I’m not going back to college. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I’ll figure it out.” She slid her leg down and stood, taking the glass of juice with her. “You know, you need to relax more. You’re going to have a stroke or something.” She smiled as she turned toward the stairs. “You know what’s relaxing? A nice dinner. With your wife.” She pointed toward the stove. “Also, your lunch is burning.”
Stan clenched his jaw and swore he tasted blood. He turned back to the stove and slid the pan off the burner. What in the world did that girl think she was doing asking him all those questions about him and her mother?
Did he think Ginny had been acting weird?
When was the last time they’d gone out to dinner together?
What kind of questions were those anyhow?
He sniffed the concoction in the pan. Burned. He made a face and tossed his hands up and slapped them down against the counter.
Yes, he thought Ginny had been acting weird but he hadn’t had time to really think about it. He had properties to sell, contracts to sign, money to earn to keep a roof over this family’s head and apparently to throw away when his daughter decided on a whim to abandon her responsibilities and walk away from earning a degree.
He had to admit he couldn’t remember the last time he and Ginny had gone out to dinner together. She’d had fundraising meetings and he’d had real estate meetings. Then there was all the times she was out helping Liz, watching her baby, cheering her up by attending art classes with her.
They’d just both been busy lately.
He scraped some of the stroganoff onto a plate.
He wondered how dinner had gone the other night with Keith. She’d never said.
Of course, he’d never asked.
He spooned some of the stroganoff up and took a bite, spitting it out a second later. Burned was an understatement. The beef and mushrooms had been napalmed.
It didn’t matter anyhow. He’d lost his appetite after his discussion with Olivia.
Not only had she avoided all his questions about what she was going to do with her future, but she’d also left his mind spinning with doubts. His marriage was fine, wasn’t it?
If it was, then why did he have a funny feeling it wasn’t?
“Let me get this straight.” Incredulous. That’s how Matt described the tone of the trooper’s voice on the other end of the phone. “You’re calling me to try to pin a drug ring on the guy you kicked the crap out of last week and who, incidentally, pressed charges against you and caused you your spot at the state police academy?” Trooper Dan Laudermilch snorted a laugh into the receiver. “Come on, McGee, really? This is clearly an attempt by you or someone else to set this guy up.”
Matt bristled at the suggestion he was a crooked cop, but swallowed a retort. “Dan, you’ve known me for how long? Do you really think I’d do something like that?”
A loud slurp made Matt pull the phone back from his ear. After the slurp, there was a clink of a mug against a desk. “No, man, I don’t, but I also didn’t think you’d slam some guy off the sidewalk. You’re not exactly ole reliable right now.”
Matt pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger as he closed his eyes and let out a sigh. “Yeah, I know. Maybe I shouldn’t have called, but it was a tip, and I didn’t want to ignore it.”
“A tip from who?” Dan’s voice was muffled, talking around a mouthful of food. Matt smirked. Probably a donut. How stereotypical.
“A guy I know.”
“Someone you arrested?”
“Yes, but —”
“How do you know this guy isn’t just trying to send you on a wild goose chase? Chase you off his own scent?”
Matt rubbed a hand through his hair. “I don’t.”
“That’s what I thought. Listen, you’re a good guy, Matt. A good cop. I want to believe you, but I worry your instincts are off with all that’s gone down the last couple weeks.” Another slurp. “Between you and me, I’m glad you decked Martin. He deserved it. I’m tired of pulling him over for speeding and Daddy sending lawyers to get him off.” A crinkling sound on the other end must have been Dan wiping donut dust from around his mouth. “Because you’re a friend, I’ll look into this, but I’m not making any promises. We’re zeroing in on the guy we think was running this thing. He’s a guy you picked up a few years back.” Papers rustled on the other end of the phone. “Yeah. Here it is. A Bernie Denton.”
Matt shook his head no, even though Dan couldn’t see him. “No. It isn’t Bernie. He was never into drugs. Not hard ones anyhow. He’s a good guy, getting himself back on his feet.”
“He’s your informant isn’t he?” Dan groaned before Matt could answer. “Come on, McGee! Really? Your informant is the guy we’re investigating. Doesn’t that seem suspicious to you?”
It did seem a little suspicious, yes, but something about the way Bernie had told him, opened up to him, made him believe it was true, as much as he didn’t want it to be. “Yeah. It does so maybe I’m wrong, okay? But I still wanted to offer the information. If there’s nothing to it, there’s nothing to it. To be honest, I don’t want there to be anything to it. It would be a lot easier for me if there wasn’t.”
Dan chuckled. “So it’s true then? You’re dating Martin’s former woman, huh?”
Matt pressed the heal of his hand into his forehead as he leaned on it. She wasn’t someone’s former woman. Her name was Liz and he loved her. The way she was being defined by Dan as if she was a possession grated on his nerves but he was already bating zero with area law enforcement. No need to burn another bridge.
“Just keep me updated if you can, Dan. I appreciate it.”
“I shouldn’t be updating you about anything, but, again, you’re a good cop, so I’ll oblige you.” Teasing edged Dan’s voice. “Just this once, though.”
Matt slid his finger over the end button and closed his eyes, pain thrumming in his temples and along the base of his skull. Now that that was over he needed to call his lawyer, who’d he just hired two days ago, and find out of Gabe had filed the lawsuit against him he’d threatened to, in addition to the assault charges he’d already filed.
The only bright spot in these last two weeks was finally telling Liz how he felt, coupled with the kisses they’d exchanged the night before. He could have kissed her all night, but that would have led them into dangerous territory. Instead, he’d stayed with her for much of the night, patting the back of a fussy Bella and watching sitcoms. This relationship wasn’t going to be only between him and Liz and for any other guy that would have been a problem. Sharing Liz with Bella wasn’t a problem for him, though. The two of them were a package deal and it was a package he was happy to be the caretaker of.
The idea of protecting them wasn’t something he dreaded. He looked at the prospect with anticipation, looking forward to even more days and nights with them. They both had already filled every inch of his heart and mind. He was ready for them to fill every moment of his life as well.